Friday, June 25, 2010

Summer Antipasti

Antipasti allows you to create your own platter of favorites.  This grouping takes me back to the antipasti bars at restaurants in Italy that provide cool mid-day shelter and a terrific first course.
You can create this yourself from store-purchased, pre-made items and it will be as good as the quality of ingredients you can get your hands on.  Lately I find marinated artichokes in jars too sharp and the olives at supermarket antipasti bars a bit dull.  My husband despairs that too many shoppers have coughed all over these antipasti bars and once your mind goes there, you are done.  It’s time to make your own.   The good news is antipasti is easy and it’s a delightful way to contribute to a shared dinner.   Individually, any of these will make a nice little hostess gift as well, especially the house roasted mixed nuts or house marinated olives.  

Our platter, which served eight, included:
Marinated mushrooms
Salami horns with red peppers and baby artichoke quarters
Polenta triangles with sage
Sliced cantaloupe melon
House marinated olives
House roasted mixed nuts

A basic vinaigrette is the key to easy preparation.  Mix a batch and divide into several smaller batches.  Add herbs to match the vegetables you are marinating (oregano, basil or tarragon for mushrooms, thyme, dill or fennel seed for artichokes). 

Basic Vinaigrette
2 ounces apple cider vinegar
6-8 ounces olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients together and taste.  I like to use a screw-top jar for this quantity.  For marinades, I keep the vinegar more prominent and use the lesser quantity of oil but go by your own tastes.  You can also try different oil and vinegar varieties. 

Marinated Mushrooms
1 10-oz package Portobello mushrooms, medium size
1 tablespoon olive oil
3-4 ounces basic vinaigrette
1/2 teaspoon each dried oregano and basil
garnish: fresh oregano

Cut mushrooms into bite-sized haves and quarters.  In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat and saut√© mushrooms until just softening.  Remove to a bowl and pour vinaigrette and herbs over hot mushrooms.  Allow to cool for about 1/2 hour then refrigerate until serving, allowing mushrooms to sit at least 2 hours to absorb marinade.  Serve cold or at room temperature. 

Salami Horns with Red Peppers and Artichokes

1 red bell pepper (or a small jar roasted whole peppers
1 package frozen artichoke hearts
3 oz basic vinaigrette
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 pound thinly sliced salami (your favorite kind)

If using a fresh bell pepper, roast skin under a broiler or on an open flame.  If using a broiler, cut pepper into sections (and remove stem and seeds)so they will lay flat on a foil lined roasting pan.  Broil 10-15 minutes until skin is well charred.  If using an open flame, use caution and tongs.  Place charred bell pepper in a paper bag to rest a few minutes during which time steam will help loosen the skin.  Peel away skin and slice pepper into long pieces.  Defrost artichokes using a microwave or over a steamer.  Toss with vinaigrette and thyme.  Set aside in refrigerator at last 2 hours.   To assemble horns, cut salami rounds in half and place a red pepper or artichoke quarter on the half.  Roll to create a horn and lay horn a serving platter seam side down.  You may stick a toothpick in horns to help them retain their shape and keep guest fingers neat.  Horns can be assembled hours ahead.  Lay a damp paper towel over platter and refrigerate. 

Polenta Triangles with Sage

3 cups water
1 cup medium grind corn meal
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 tablepoon unsalted butter
olive oil
garnish: fresh sage leaves

Make polenta.  Bring water or broth to simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heart.  Stir in cornmeal and stir well to prevent lumps.  Once mixture begins to thicken (about 10 minutes on low heat), you will only need to stir occasionally.  Polenta is ready when corn meal is fully expanded and soft and all liquid is absorbed.  Thinly coat a 9” X 13” baking pan with oil and pout polenta into pan.  Cover lightly and refrigerate until firm, about 2-3 hours.  Cut into wedges, squares or use a cookie cutter to cut our specialty shapes.  Garnish with some fresh sage if desired. 

House Marinated Olives
2 jars olives in brine, any variety
large peel of lemon and orange (no white pith)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
2-3 springs fresh thyme, rosemary and/or oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
optional:1 dried arbol pepper or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 375˚F.  Toss all ingredients together and place in a small roasting pan or pie plate.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Bake 20 minutes.  Remove foil and let cool about 20 minutes before serving.  Remove any large stems from herb sprigs but leave remaining flavor ingredients. They are edible and create a pretty, rustic look.  These olives keep refrigerated for up to a week and taste best at room temperature. 

House Roasted Mixed Nuts
2 cups of your favorite nuts, whole or havles
2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon each: paprika, black pepper, dried rosemary, salt
pinch sugar

Preheat oven to 375˚F.  Mix all ingredients together and place in a shallow roasting pan.  Roast, watching nuts carefully to prevent burning.  Some nuts, like pecans, burn more easily than others.  Check every 3-4 minutes and toss nuts so that they are well coated each time.   Nuts need only cool a few minutes before serving and also hold up well at room temperature.  Store extras in an airtight container.

Sliced Cantaloupe Melon

1/2 cantaloupe, seeded and rind removed, cut in long, bite-sized slices
Serve plain with toothpicks or drizzle limejuice and/or a bit of honey on top.  Some people like freshly ground pepper on their melon.  Melon tastes superb nestled alongside chacuterie (witness prosciutto and melon). 

Antipasti ingredients can make dinner easy on hot nights.  Serve it along with a platter of cold pesto noodles, crusty rustic bread slices and a glass of an Italian white wine like Pino Grigio or Gavi or a red with the Sangiovese grape. (See June 20th entry for pesto recipe.)